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chapter seven
Part Five

Not wanting to appear suspicious Ethan calmly spoke without turning as he held his thumb against the send trigger until it confirmed transmission, he covered this move with a falsely casual, "It's about time you got here."

"I got busy." She said.

The icy shiver that voice caused rippled up Ethan's back once again and he fought to suppress his reaction. He turned to see Coombs standing there, calmly, almost bored.

"They're going for the death penalty, you know that?" He stepped forward letting the agitation out.

"What do you think?" She responded casually as she took the seat opposite him. Of course she knew these things, she WAS Information.

Ethan moved to the table between abruptly, "So what's the plan?"

Coombs looked up at him curiously, "What did you have in mind?"

"Something that didn't involve me dying."

She shrugged, "You killed MacPherson in front of the entire planet, what did you think was going to happen when you did that?"

"It had to be open, there had to be no question." He practically parroted their earlier discussion.

"It didn't have to be you." She picked at a spur on her nail. "I was hoping you'd find some stooge to take care of it for you. I actually rather got the impression that's why you were talking to Finnegan so much."

Ethan backed off; he could never have done that to Finn. Yet that was the least of his problems. He'd just off'd his Commanding Officer, the head of the entire Military, and he'd closed every 'out' open to him in doing it. He apparently closed every 'out' open to them also.

"So, I'm going to die." It wasn't a question, his voice clearly carried resignation.

"You didn't leave much option." She paused while she looked around, almost as though she didn't want to make him uncomfortable through eye contact, "it's too bad, you were our best portal to Finnegan."

Ethan looked up, "what do you mean?"

She looked at him frankly and spoke slowly hoping to plant a seed, "He needs someone to spell out what we want more clearly, he's not picking up the clues. There was some talk of getting him to take you to Crawford."

The word Crawford hung in the air. Crawford was in the Union of Western States of America. As the UWO was the only country that still practiced that black art of state executions it was also the site of every one of them in the last one hundred and eighteen years.

Major Ethan Frohman would enter the history books as being the first member of the Network executed in the organization's history. The weight of events descended on him like a lead cloak.

* * *

The sentence had come down as expected and it was reported live on every channel, as was the norm. But only one channel, NewsNet 7, immediately followed up with one report after another about the Network facility in Crawford, Texas, UWO and the history of executions, including a non-stop barrage with the finest legal minds on the planet spiked between a steady stream of most recognized faces in the latest fashions.

It was glorious.

* * *

Finn reported, as ordered, on the platform deck where only a week earlier he'd arrived, ready for a new adventure. It was a cold and grey day. Before him, primed on the pad was OWEN TELL, the same class of shuttle that he'd arrived in.

The Military Valet stepped toward him with the display showing all systems were primed and had been double-checked.

"Anything to stow, Leftenant?" Asked the Military Valet as he handed Finn the checklist display.

The jockey wore the Orange collar of an engineer, rather than the yellow maintenance collar someone doing this would normally have had. Because of that Finn simply glanced down the list. "Negative. I've already forwarded my gear to my next assignment," he said.

"Oh yeah? Where's that, sir?"

Finn looked up brightly, "Buffalo Commons."

The look he got back was surprising. It reminded Finn of the sort of look received when one said they had a fatal illness.

Finn signed off on the check-list and handed it back. If there was something wrong with the vehicle that this highly qualified Engineer had missed, Finn was sure his poor excuse for technical knowledge would never catch it.

He turned as the double doors opened and the four guards, all members of the security detail Ethan Frohman had originally collected, escorted their former Commander toward Finn. Here the Senior Leftenant tabbed off on the "Chain-of-Command" order and took possession of the prisoner.

Finn let Ethan enter first.

The inside rear cabin of the shuttle had been gutted. All four chairs were removed leaving just an open space. Finn looked grimly at it. Even if he took the polar route the flight was going to last over an hour, which was a long time to expect someone to stand.

Ethan stopped at the threshold to the space. He could hear the frame humming as the electro-static barrier readied for activation. It provided a very simple restraint, he could see through, and maybe rush through it, but not without experiencing terribly high voltages, of a level that might save the executioner the trouble.

He looked at the tiny empty room. The whole sequence of events was starting to wear thin on him. He hadn't slept in almost three days which is why, as he entered Ethan turned back to Finn, motioning to the closet sized space with a look of exasperation, "They removed the chairs?"

Finn looked at the man before him. This man, his mentor, his friend, had betrayed everything they were supposed to stand for. He had brought Finn's own motives into question. He'd violated a trust at all levels and despite everything they'd been through in the past Finn couldn't find any sympathy for him.

"Someone thinks you're cleverer than you look." It was all he could think to say before triggering the security frame, turning and moving into the cockpit for the pre-flight check. He regretted it almost immediately and although he couldn't bring himself to turn and cut his friend a break, he did plot the polar route course to keep the trip as short as possible.

Ethan stood there brooding. His lady friend hadn't come. The ideal time would've been while he was out in the open on the pad, walking to the Shuttle. It would've been dramatic but a Grav-Harness could've made their escape a breeze, they'd both done it many times.

It's possible she didn't get the message in time, maybe he could send another, but what to tell her. Once he got within Crawford airspace he was sunk, if he was going to do anything it had to be in-flight but that meant by-passing the electro-static barrier and overpowering Finn or bringing this Shuttle down in-flight. That would mean accessing in-flight systems, none of which were accessible to him from his 'cell', unless...

He reached for the DAR-LYN bar on the side wall of this tiny room. Normally this would project a holo-image and allow the passenger to scan through the entire library of the Network or catch the latest news, but like any display it had overrides, under-ground overrides. He reached for it, waved his hand in front of the display area and got nothing.

"Can you at least unlock the Televid?" Not a suspicious request, he was all over the Newsnets and even an hour long flight warranted some video access. Finn wouldn't know how much though.

Without replying Finn reached over to that part of the console and removed the close out on the ship's system, but he also fed the signal to a display on his console, just in case. Ethan saw that, but it didn't matter, they didn't call them 'Ghosts' for nothing.

* * *

Twenty minutes later, an agitated James Ticinovic called Andrea Coombs back to the Security Monitoring room. She entered, looking about, wondering what the fuss was. The board was quiet and most of the displays were showing various views of Earth from high orbit.

She moved to Ticinovic, "What?"

"Ethan's shuttle has gone down somewhere over the Arctic."

Coombs was stunned, "Somewhere?"

Ticinovic moved around the planning table to a console and cued up the last image they had of it. The Owen Tell was in flight, high over the Arctic and then, abruptly it began to lose altitude. Before dropping below Sat-View the Driver was discharged falling harmlessly into the Arctic Ocean.

"Crap." Andrea Coombs turned, stunned silent. "What assets do we have there?"

"We're scrambling some search and rescue butů it's the Arctic. Live Eye doesn't bother with the Arctic!"

"So we don't know exactly where they are?"

"We don't even know approximately where they are! It's somewhere north of 80 degrees, we're not even sure if they hit solid land."

"Or ice." It was a suggestion. Coombs was rapidly learning that she was an optimist.

"Right." Ticinovic conceded. "We've got a Med-Rescue craft prepping for launch topside."

Coombs stepped forward eagerly, "From here?"

Ticinovic nodded but before he could verbally respond Coombs had left. She was half way to the launch pad before she remembered to call for them to hold the craft. She'd spent too much time on this project to lose him now. If she did, she'd never forgive herself.

* * *